Body mechanics

August 29, 2005

ADVISERS AT the Food and Drug Administration took time out last week to determine how best to regulate leeches and maggots for use on ailing humans. Turns out these creepy-crawlies are accounted as medical devices; the question is how stringent a review their "manufacturers" will have to undergo before they may bring them to market.

Why "devices"? Because they chew, which is a mechanical process, says the FDA. One could call them the oldest bits of biotechnology. Certainly the squirmiest.

Why approve them? Because they work wonders. Freshwater leeches help ease the strain on patients' veins by drawing excess blood away from the system; because their saliva contains a human anesthetic, they can do their thing practically unnoticed. Maggots can clear the dead tissue from such wounds as diabetic ulcers and bedsores while stimulating the healthy surrounding tissue to ramp up the healing.

Who knew? Well, the ancients did. And surgeons working on battlefields since before the Renaissance. Johns Hopkins' Dr. William Baer started a trend in the 1930s when he published the success he'd found using maggots to heal several children who had bone infections; he'd seen them do their work on gravely wounded men during World War I. Antibiotics supplanted the bugs in the 1940s and on, but as bacteria grow more resistant to antibiotic treatment, maggots are seeing a comeback. It's wise to set strong guidelines on how they are grown, shipped and used; if that means calling living organisms devices, so be it.

How to get over the "eeeuuw" factor? Well, we're still working on that one.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.